The Signal’s political reporter Fernando Ramirez talked to Democratic congressional candidate Candace Valenzuela, who’s running in Texas’ 24th District between Dallas and Fort Worth. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Texas Signal (Fernando Ramirez): Before running for Congress, you were a school board member. Can you talk about how that came to be and your experiences there?
Candace Valenzuela: Sure. Well, a lot of the things that drove me to run for school board of the things that are driving me to run for Congress. And it has a lot to do with my experiences growing up. I bounced around from place to place, but when my mom was able to figure stuff out we got help through housing funding through HUD. We got food stamps on our Lone Star card. And public school became kind of a home for us. When my mom figured it out it conferred some stability. My mom tried to keep my brother and I and the same cohort of school from about second grade on, and I became the first in my family to go to college. I got a full ride to Claremont McKenna College and majored in government. But then I graduated in the Recession and ended up getting a number of jobs, most of which were not related directly to my degree in. Because, again, I graduated in the height of the Recession. I ended up working in education in a bunch of different aspects. [And] I was looking at schools for my own son. There were things that were going right with my district, but there was a lot that needed fixing. It was majority at-risk. It was a majority-minority school district but there were only two board members of color: one African American, one Latino, the first of the respective ethnicities, not on for very long. So I ended up running and people told me I couldn’t do it. I ended up defeating an 18-year incumbent with the backing of the Republican establishment.
TS: Can you going to give a timeline between you got elected to the school board and when you decided to run for Congress.
CV: So I got elected to the school board position in May of 2017. I decided to run for Congress because my students in my district were experiencing a lot of the difficulties I did, except on steroids. It’s been much worse for them. They’re bouncing around a lot worse. They’re having a lot more difficulties with food insecurity. And that decision happened more or less in the beginning of 2019.
TS: There are a number of candidates running for the 24th Congressional District, including the former candidate for Agricultural Commissioner of Agriculture, Kim Olson. What about your candidacy that helps you stand out in the primary.
CV: For one, I’m leading the field. The only published poll out right now shows that I’m leading the field. I am from this district. I mean, I didn’t grow up here, but I’ve been living here for several years and beyond that, this district and I are a great fit demographically. It is well educated, it is a majority-minority district.
TS: What about the district made it competitive in that election and is going to make it competitive going into 2020?
CV: I think that it was It was a confluence of factors. One of the things is that the demographics have been changing over the last few years. Part of it is people moving in. My husband and I moved here back from California. We’re both Texans by birth, but go to work in Plano. And there’s been companies that have opened up in the area that have attracted folks from other states. That’s one factor, and I think another is people moving out of urban Dallas into the suburban areas. Texas 24 is completely suburban. And so over the past decade or so, you’ve seen an increase in the minority population here. So the phenomenon of this being a majority-minority district is very recent. It was in 2016 when we edged over 50%, and counting. So we’re going further and further in the direction where there are a lot more people of color, And then in 2018 there was a lot more engagement. I mean, part of it was Trump. Part of it was Beto O’Rourke.
TS: Something you said really piqued my interest. And it’s that you graduated into the recession where, you know, the job market was pretty poor.And you know just how important public schools were in your life. In terms of concrete policy, how are some of these experiences going to end up, you know, being, I guess, bills. I’m just trying to get a good idea of what policies you want to bring to the table.
CV: We need to update the poverty line, first off. It’s based on a formula that was made decades ago, and it doesn’t really reflect the needs of the people in this district or in this country. We need to make sure that HUD is are adequately funded, it’s not funded well enough to keep people housed. We know that when we keep people homed we have a lot fewer costs associated with health and with public safety. So it’s making sure that we both fund HUD and then push for ways to create more affordable housing.
There’s a lot of things that I’m thinking about in terms of education. We need to be investing in disaster relief plans and educational infrastructure. It takes a lot of money for a school to come up with a disaster relief plan. We need universal full-day, high quality pre-K. We get such a high return on investment as a country, it is not “I feel so cute or I feel so good” bunnies and rainbows kind of return on investment. I mean actual hard dollars. For every dollar you invest in pre-K, you get five back. You have you have higher graduation rates, lower teen pregnancy rates, higher rates of higher education attendance, when you have early childhood education and it is good quality. Ah, and I think that in the state it’s terrible that we’re spending twice as much on prison inmates then we are on our four year olds when we can get so much more back if we invest early and keep them away from the school-to-prison pipeline.
TS: I’m sure you’re you’re privy to some of the debate going on in the primaries both on the presidential level and on the senate level here in Texas. Where do you stand on some of the debates in terms of health care, climate change, and income inequality.
CV: In terms of health care, I support a nonprofit public option with the ability to negotiate prescription drug prices. I think that we need to as much as possible to have universally available health care without profit motive. But there are a lot of folks that are attached to their health care as it is, particularly unions who negotiated their health care. And, you know, I’m the daughter of two veterans. I’ve been to the VA. It’s not phenomenal. I could understand why people might not necessarily want to hand over their health care entirely over to the federal government.
In terms of climate change, we need to do some substantial investment in green infrastructure. In general, we’ve been long overdue for infrastructure overhauls on our highways, in our pipes. and in our Internet. We need to start thinking about fiber optic cables as infrastructure. But we need green infrastructure. Texas is a leader in wind turbine technology, and we don’t have enough people to maintain those wind turbines. We’re not meeting the educational needs that we have now. We need to be relying more heavily on solar and wind technology. We need to be reducing significantly, our dependence on fossil fuels. And we need to make sure that we have enough education to fill those gaps and make sure that people have the jobs to do it.
TS: What about income inequality? You talked a little bit about the poverty line. In terms of policies, what are you examining to solve the income inequality crisis in Texas and around the U.S.
CV: I think that we should be pushing for a $15 per hour minimum wage. I know that it’s long overdue, but if we also have if we also have affordable health care I think that would be pretty helpful in offsetting the fact that $15 wouldn’t get us very far at this point. But a lot of us are suffering from pretty significant medical debt. Fighting for a minimum wage. Making sure that we have fair labor standards for our folks, particularly our lower income salary or salaried workers. I would also push for a Fed policy to push toward full employment. We know that as the unemployment numbers point toward zero, we see a lot less income inequality for people of color or for women. And I think that we need to push for policies that that move in that direction.
TS: I’m sure you have done some plenty of block walking. What’s the number one issue that voters are bringing up to you?
CV: At this point I know that they’re starting the tune out a lot of the media circus. And they’ve been very concerned with health care, The ability to pay for it both in the short and long term, to be able to cover it for their families. I know entire families of people with little kids, who often to pay for their health care out of pocket because they don’t feel like the burden that they take on for health insurance compensates for how much it costs them and their daily lives. I think again it all comes back down to living affordability. When people can afford to take care of themselves and their families, they’re going to be happier and a lot more problems are solved. And more and more of us are having a harder time being able to stay afloat.
TS: Do you do anything else to add about the race or your campaign that you want people to know about?
CV: You know, in the last few years we haven’t had a great Democratic infrastructure in North Texas, and we lost the generation of folks who can run campaigns. And so in my campaign, I’ve made a conscious effort to hire the kinds of people I would want to see running campaigns. And then they are conscientious about training the young people in our neighborhood to be able to lead themselves. We are not just trying to win an election, we’re trying to build an infrastructure so that we can have a representative democracy in this area. And I’m really proud of my team.
Photo: Candace Valenzuela campaign website